Jonathan Kanter, a Washington D.C. antitrust attorney and founder of the Kanter Law Group, has been nominated by President Joe Biden to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice. Previously, Kanter was as an attorney for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition, “where he investigated and challenged large mergers,” according to his company bio.
The role is seen as key to President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. The White House has signaled it intends to do more to promote competition and address antitrust issues, including with an executive order issued earlier this month.
“Antitrust enforcement is one of the best tools the federal government has to rein in corporate power and build a just, inclusive economy,” wrote Representative Mondaire Jones, D-NY17, in an April op-ed in The Hill endorsing Kanter for the role. “The assistant attorney general for antitrust will help set the administration’s approach to combating the modern-day monopolies that write the rules of our economy.”
Favored by progressives for his aggressive point of view on technology firms, Kanter joins Lina Khan, named chair of the Federal Trade Commission, and Tim Wu, appointed to the National Economic Council, among the critics of the economic power of companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook who have joined the ranks of the Biden administration. Senator Elizabeth Warren called the nomination “tremendous news”. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham law professor and antitrust expert, called Kanter “an extraordinary choice.” Hal Singer, a Managing Director at Econ One, called it “excellent news”.
“With the appointment of Jonathan Kanter as Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust, President Biden has chosen the perfect person at the perfect time,” said Roger McNamee, a Silicon Valley investor and prominent critic of Facebook. “No attorney in the antitrust field is better prepared to address the harms from concentrated economic power than Jonathan Kanter. Now Congress needs to step up and provide tools that will enable Kanter and his FTC counterpart, Lina Khan, to attack the harmful behaviors that are the norm in our economy.”
Known as a foe, in particular, of Google, Kanter is an exponent of the idea that the United States has been too lax in enforcement on competition questions in recent years, even as tech firms have exploited platform economics to dominate a number of markets.
“This country used to be far more active on what we call monopolization cases. In the last 15, 20 years, there’s been a lot of shift in not just the law, but really in the policy from a government perspective – folks familiar with the Chicago school of economics, where the risk of what they call a false positive, getting it wrong, is great, or where you somehow disrupt the flow of the free market,” Kanter said on a podcast for the Copyright Clearance Center in 2016. “Those are all important things, but sometimes you can go too far in one direction or too far in another. Right now, that pendulum has swung probably, at least according to some – I would be in that camp – too far toward hands-off. Because at the end of the day, antitrust is not supposed to keep the market from functioning in a free and open way. It’s supposed to help the market function in a free and open way by removing clogs on competition.”
Justin Hendrix is CEO and Editor of Tech Policy Press, a new nonprofit media venture concerned with the intersection of technology and democracy. Previously, he was Executive Director of NYC Media Lab. He spent over a decade at The Economist in roles including Vice President, Business Development & Innovation. He is an associate research scientist and adjunct professor at NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Opinions expressed here are his own.